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Grenada referendum and the protection of children

23 November 2016
The people of Grenada go to the polls this month to take part in the country’s national referendum. Karen McKenzie, head of human rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat, and Steve Onwuasoanya, human rights adviser have been providing technical assistance to the public education campaign of the Constitutional Reform Advisory Committee (CRAC). Here is the latest of the inspirational stories of the people they have been meeting.

It’s not the fault of the child that he or she is born out of wedlock. That much would seem obvious. But for Johnny Calliste, a proud, patriotic Grenadian and project coordinator with the Ministry of Youth, it has meant stigmatisation and discrimination, especially during his childhood. 

To Johnny, nothing is more important, at this time in the history of his country, than the current constitutional reform process, which culminates in a referendum this week. He cannot understand why children born out of wedlock are discriminated against and is hoping for a change in attitude, enshrined in law.


The constitutional amendments in the Rights and Freedoms Bill include:

  • expanding the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals including rights of citizens under arrest
  • protecting intellectual property
  • protecting children generally, whether born in or out of wedlock
  • guaranteeing public funded education to all children under the age of 16 years and those with disabilities under the age of 18 years
  • guaranteeing gender equality so that both men and women shall have equal rights and status in all spheres of life
  • establishing directive principles for state policy regarding: (a) the protection of the environment; and (b) the establishment of an enabling environment for persons who are physically, visually, aurally and or mentally challenged

Unsurprisingly, he is excited that the Bill contains a provision that protects all children against discrimination, whether born in or out of wedlock.

Johnny is convinced that the Bill is a positive step in the right direction in addressing the culturally ingrained issues of discrimination and stigmatisation.

The inclusion of the protection of all children, no matter the circumstances in which they are born, reflects the spirit and letter of article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This affirms that: “All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection”. It is important perhaps to note, the declaration is the only international “soft law”, meaning it is persuasive but not binding. This was unanimously agreed by all United Nations member states at the UN General Assembly in 1948.

Birth registration is a fundamental right, recognised by article 24(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It makes clear that every child shall be registered immediately after birth. Further, article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) reiterates that a child should have a name at birth. The fulfilment of the right to be registered at birth is closely linked to the realisation of many other socio-economic rights.

The right to healthcare, the right to education and social welfare are examples. The socio-economic rights are at particular risk where birth registration is not systemically carried out and so the protection of children is jeopardized. Grenada ratified the ICCPR in 1991 and the CRC in 1990. Regionally, Grenada is a party to the American Convention on Human Rights which clearly supports equal protection of children.

Furthermore, in its second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in January 2015, Grenada accepted the recommendations to:

  • take additional measures to strengthen awareness-raising campaigns to promote respect for children’s rights
  • enhance the programmes aimed at protecting children from all forms of abuse.  

Beyond the referendum, the issue of raising awareness of the rights of children born in or out of wedlock will be critical in the realisation of the tenets of the Bill.

Yes, Johnny is right in his conviction that if the vote on the Bill were successful, it will protect children like him who are born out of wedlock through no fault of their own. It will also make the Grenadian Constitution more progressive in reflecting the finest ethos of the international human rights instruments to which the government has subscribed and committed itself.